Ten (10) Business Lessons from The Godfather

Francis Ford Coppola’s popular movies The Godfather Parts I and II aired on AMC on Thanksgiving Day. The movies are based on Mario Puzo’s novel titled The Godfather. I have watched it countless times. But, this time I took notes. The Godfather, Vito Corleone was a mobster. But, he was also a shrewd businessman. He owned Genco Imports and trucked goods from New York to destinations such as Havana, Canada, and Nevada.

Here are some of the business lessons I gleaned from the movie:

1. Build Relationships

When a fellow wanted a favor from the Godfather, his response was: “I can’t remember the last time you invited me over for coffee…you never wanted my friendship…now you come to me for justice.” Putting the criminal element aside, what I learned from this is the importance of staying in touch, developing friendships, sharing and giving “before” you need a favor. Folks help those that they like, know, and trust. Folks buy from those they like, know, and trust.

2. Stay Flexible

The Godfather went as far as saying, as friends, your enemies become our enemies and you become feared. Well, in business, the enemies could be perceived as competitors. Your friends can help you position yourself where your competition fears you. However, nowadays with increasing collaboration, we may be competitors one day and partners the next.

This happened to the Godfather in another scene when he needed to keep the peace and needed to partner with a rival. So, the lesson here is to stay flexible.

3. Make all inquiries

Before the Godfather met with his rival, he told his son Michael: “I want all inquiries made.” We call that gathering intelligence. It is best to team with channel partners that are in your industry, but offer different services and products. So, when you decide to team with a competitor, it is best to make inquiries and gather as much information as possible about your competition.

4. Make them an offer they cannot refuse

When the Godfather’s godson asked for help with getting a movie studio to agree to give him a part in the movie, the Godfather told him he would help. When the Godfather said he would help, the godson asked how. The Godfather said he was going to make them an offer they could not refuse.

Again, putting the criminal element aside, when negotiating deals, you should make them an offer they cannot refuse. Don’t waste your time or the other party’s time.

I finished law school back in 1994. I invested in books on negotiating. One that I keep on my shelf is Tim Hindle’s Negotiating Skills. Tim advised to put forth your proposal with as little emotion as possible. Another book that I have kept over the years is Neil Shister’s 10 Minute Guide to Negotiating. Neil advised that “it is to your advantage to present a higher authority from which you must seek approval in finalizing the negotiation.”

The Godfather sent his pseudo-adopted son, the conciliator out to California to handle negotiations. As Tim Hindle advised, this guy was cool, calm, and collected. He was fluent and confident. He never lost his temper. He was always complimentary and polite. The conciliator also used the Neil Shister tactic of presenting a higher authority. He later revealed that it was the Godfather

The conciliator was prepared to share the “what’s in it for them”. The Godfather’s conciliator told the movie executive that they could deal with the unions for him and help him in other ways.

I teach government contracting for Georgia Tech’s Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC) and we teach business owners to focus on building relationships and helping the customer and the sale will follow. The key is to meet with the prospect face to face and to be prepared with a proposition of what’s in it for them.

5. You can do something about it

When the godson told the Godfather about the movie deal, the godson was upset and said that he could not do anything to change the studio executive’s mind. The Godfather told the godson that he could indeed do something about it. To do so was to be a man.

This reminded me of a friend of mine who is an extremely negative, naysayer. I cannot stand it. I know I cannot change him. I can only control my reaction to it. At some point, I may need to distance myself from the negativity. But, this guy always says, “no, it cannot be done…nothing can be done about it.” Like the Godfather, I believe where there is a will, there is a way. Go around, over, or under obstacles.

6. Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking

I love this. Whether you work in a government agency, corporation, or have your own business, there needs to be loyalty. The work teams function best when they function as a family unit. The leadership’s strategic thoughts need to stay internal to the family. Communication outside the family needs to be controlled.

7. Tell them what you want

I won one year of free business coaching in 2008 when I won a Sam Walton Emerging Entrepreneur Award. One of the lessons I was taught was to get in the habit of saying “I want” this and that when I want to get something done and need to give others directions. This is a great leadership skill.

Well, I noticed that the Godfather used this technique. Here are some examples of the Godfathers’ “I want” statements:
 “I want no acts of vengeance.”
 “I want you to arrange a meeting with the five families. This war ends now.”
 “I want all inquiries made.”

As a child, I was taught to ask, “May I have?”. Well, in business, it is “I want”.

8. You lose your political connections, you lose half your strength

You know, I have never been a political person. As a child growing up in Chicago, my mom was an advocate of helping the local alderman. We were good citizens and we helped. As a city planner, I helped mayors, city council and county commissioners’ members. I never had money to donate to campaigns. But, I have observed over the years how folks with political connections have stronger organizations than those that do not. So, there may be some merit to this.

9. Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family

This lesson is similar to No. 6 in that whether you work in a government agency, corporation, or have your own business, there needs to be loyalty.

10. Women business owners cannot be careless

I took creative liberty on this one. The Godfather actually made the male chauvinistic statement: “women and children can be careless – but not men”. Well, we can naively sweep that under the rug as a sign of his time. Alternatively, we can face the fact that men that thought this way raised men to think this way – and therefore, this type of thinking is likely to still exist.

I am a lawyer, civil engineer, city planner, certified public manager, and business strategist. I have been on male dominated career paths for nearly 30 years. So, the lesson I learned from the Godfather’s statement was that since men may think that like children, women can be careless – women need to counter this stereotype. We cannot be care free and careless. This is especially true of women business owners. A lot has been written about how women owned businesses are less successful than male owned businesses. Perhaps the concept of carelessness needs to be studied. If levels of care could be measured, could it be proven that women business owners care less than men?

Clovia founded Lemongrass Consulting in 2005 with 25 years of government work experience and serves as a procurement counselor in the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC). Lemongrass Consulting provides strategic planning solutions including government contracting strategic marketing plans. Visit us at: http://www.lemongrassplanning.com – Follow Clovia on Twitter @lemongrassplans and LIKE Lemongrass on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/6cuu28o


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